OTD: First Canadian-bred Kentucky Derby winner dies after severe colic attack

On today’s date in 1990, Northern Dancer, the first Canadian-bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby, was euthanized at the age of 29 following a severe attack of colic.

In 1967, a two-year-old Northern Dancer was ridden by Drummond, N.B.’s Ron Turcotte in his first victory at the Fort Erie Race Track. Turcotte won the Summer Stakes and the Coronation Futurity in Canada in addition to the Remsen Stakes in New York. His record of seven victories in nine starts earned him the Canadian Juvenile Championship.

Turcotte was also the rider of Secretariat, who won the U.S. Triple Crown in 1973.

At three years old, Northern Dancer won the Grade I Flamingo Stakes and Grade I Florida Derby with jockey Bill Shoemaker, according to the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame. Before the running of the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky., trainer Horatio Luro asked Shoemaker to make a commitment to ride Northern Dancer in the Kentucky Derby; however, Shoemaker chose a colt named Hill Rise, who he had never ridden.

“The unbeaten Hill Rise had an impressive campaign in California, winning the San Felipe Stakes and the Grade I Santa Anita Derby. Shoemaker campaigned hard to get Hill Rise as his mount, believing the colt represented his best chance for a Derby win. As a result of Shoemaker’s decision, Bill Hartack became Northern Dancer’s permanent jockey and guided him to victories in the Blue Grass and the Kentucky Derby, winning the Derby over a fast closing Hill Rise in a record time that stood until it was broken by Secretariat in 1973.”

The medal honours Northern Dancer as the ‘fastest Derby horse ever.’


Hartack and Northern Dancer won the Preakness Stakes and finished third in the Belmont Stakes to Quadrangle and Roman Brother.

Following the Belmont, Northern Dancer won Canada’s Queen’s Plate before tenderness in his left front tendon ended his racing career.

Northern Dancer was named North America’s champion three-year-old colt of 1964 as well as Canadian Horse of the Year. In his two years of racing, Northern Dancer won 14 of his 18 races and never finished worse than third place.

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association calls Northern Dancer “one of the most influential sires in Thoroughbred history.” At the time of his 1990 death, his offspring won more than 1,000 stakes races.

With a penchant for siring winners, Northern Dancer’s stud fee reached $1 million, an amount four to five times his rivals’ fees.

Northern Dancer was retired from breeding on April 15, 1987, and died in 1990. He is buried at Windfields Farm in Oshawa, Ont.


In the late 1960s, a series of zinc medals entitled “Great Canadian Moments” included a bilingual commemorative medal celebrating Northern Dancer’s 1964 Kentucky Derby win.

A November 2014 eBay listing from user “ight.coin,” who is based in Regina, Sask., shows one of these zinc medals, which measure 31 millimetres in diameter, sold for $12.50 USD.

A more recent listing, this from May 2015 and also offered by “ight.coin,” shows another example sold for $9 USD.

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